Discomfort isn’t loud. It’s like the sound of a distant jackhammer—incessant and unsettling. It feels awful—it can show up as defensiveness, annoyance, impatience. But because it doesn’t shout, it’s easy to shut discomfort out and go into the hidey-hole of avoidance.
Like other challenging emotions, though, discomfort is a signal—an internal GPS—that tells us we might be off course. Discomfort says: Pay attention. Something important is happening.
Discomfort may arise as simple pinpricks of irritation, when someone cuts you off in traffic, or a neighbor plays their music too loud. Heavier discomfort arises when life is turned on its head, as it has been during the pandemic. Or during conversations about racism, and the work needed to actively oppose it. You may not know how to work with your discomfort—and you’re not alone.
It’s a biological imperative for every living creature—from pill bug to human being—to move away from the unpleasant and, like a moth drawn to a wool sweater, move toward the pleasant.
But there’s a rich upside in getting comfortable with discomfort, not the least of which is preventing it from ballooning into full-blown anger, fear, or anxiety. By avoiding our discomfort we also decline the…
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Kelly Barron is a freelance writer in Los Angeles and a former associate editor and staff writer for Forbes magazine. She is a mindfulness instructor for eMindful Inc. and also teaches mindfulness for UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center.